Are We Already Past the Point of No Return for Climate Change?


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Nicole Welle | November 16, 2020

A new study found that global temperatures may continue to rise for hundreds of years even after humans completely cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Authors of the study, which was published Thursday in the British Journal Scientific Reports, wrote that the only way to stop global warming would be to eliminate human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and find a way to extract huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, according to an article in USA Today.

The scientists used a model to study the effect of greenhouse gas emission reductions on the Earth’s climate from the year 1850 to 2500. They then created projections of global temperatures and sea level rises. The model showed that cutting greenhouse gas emissions at any point in the future will not be enough if it is the only tool humans employ to combat rising temperatures and sea levels.

As the burning of fossil fuels release gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, global temperatures increase. This causes Arctic ice and carbon-containing permafrost to melt, a process that releases even more carbon into the atmosphere and reduces the ability of Earth’s surface to reflect sunlight. Human action triggered these processes, and they will continue to warm the earth unless humans capture carbon in the atmosphere and make the Earth’s surface brighter, according to the study’s authors.

This study was an important thought experiment, but some environmental experts are skeptical about the accuracy of its results. Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann said that the computer model used was too simple and failed to accurately represent large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns that could affect the results.

Regardless of the results’ accuracy, this study still reflects on the importance of finding ways to combat climate change even after global emissions reach net zero. The authors also urge other scientists to follow up and expand on their work.

Diversifying Crops Benefits Environment and Farmers


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Maxwell Bernstein | November 13, 2020

new study from an international team of researchers found that diversifying crops, “enhances biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, and water regulation without compromising crop yields.”

Midwestern agriculture is heavily reliant on soybeans and corn. Diversification practices include crop rotations, planting prairie strips along and within fields, creating wildlife habitats near fields, reducing tillage, and using organic matter to enrich soil.

These practices can improve water quality, pollination, pest regulation, nutrient turnover, and reduce sequestered carbon in the soil, according to AG Daily.

Showing that these practices might increase crop yields might encourage farmers to take up these practices Matt Liebman, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State, said in AG Daily.  

Environmentalists Hope Biden’s Win will Improve Iowa’s Renewable Energy Industries


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Nicole Welle | November 12, 2020

Iowa environmental advocates are celebrating President-elect Joe Biden’s win and say that his presidency could boost Iowa’s renewable energy industry and environmental protection efforts.

The Iowa Environmental Council is interested in seeing the Biden administration increase federal opportunities that expand solar and wind development, promote the construction of transmission lines to deliver clean energy from Iowa to the rest of the U.S., and push policies that promote sustainable farming practices. Iowa has been heavily impacted by storms and flooding events in recent years, so the council also hopes to see policies that will encourage the adoption of a more resilient infrastructure, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Angelisa Belden, a council spokesperson, says that she expects the Biden administration to reverse the Donald Trump’s environmental deregulation efforts from the last four years. The council is also focussing closely on who Biden will appoint as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They disapprove of Andrew Wheeler, the current head of the EPA, because of his close ties to the coal and oil industries.

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club also endorsed Biden during the presidential race. They, along with other environmentalists across the state, believe Biden’s bold plans to address climate change will aid them in their own efforts to transition the state to clean energy and protect natural resources, and they look forward to his first days in office.

President-elect Joe Biden Gets to Work


President-elect Joe Biden speaks Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Maxwell Bernstein | November 11, 2020

After Joe Biden’s election victory with a 4.3% margin on the popular vote, president-elect Joe Biden began to form a coronavirus task force to deal with the pandemic after his oath of office on Jan. 20.  

The president-elect will spend the first 100 days in office working on the pandemic, police reform, racial inequality, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, foreign policy, and fixing environmental issues, according to an in-depth look into Biden’s first 100 days from NPR.  

When it comes to environmental issues, Biden will reenter the Paris climate accord of 2015 on day 1 of his presidency and begin his $2 trillion climate plan. Biden’s $2 trillion plan to create job growth through investing in green infrastructure and businesses could very well be implemented in Biden’s coronavirus economic stimulus. 

Water Export Deal Delayed After Water Futures Trading Discussed


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Thomas Robinson | November 10th, 2020

Pattison Sand Co. has delayed their appeal of a decision by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to deny a permit to pump water from the Jordan aquifer in Clayton, Iowa and export it out of the state.

The delay comes after the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) recently discussed trading on water futures based on the California Water Index.  Trading on water futures could potentially make the proposed water export much more lucrative, or, it could also make the market more competitive making the proposal less favorable.  The appeal will now be heard starting on December 1, 2021.

Concerns over the project’s implications have been raised by the Sierra Club and an Iowa state hydrologist suggesting that the pumping operation would set a dangerous precedent.  The Sierra Club has been prevented from intervening in the case after the judge overseeing the hearing ruled that the nonprofit organization lacked legal standing.

The Iowa DNR has previously denied Pattison Sand Co.’s proposal three times starting back in February of this year.  Pumping water from the Jordan aquifer could increase an already strained water resource which is used for drinking water and irrigation across the state.

Quick Things President-elect Joe Biden Could Do for the Environment Once He Takes Office


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Nicole Welle | November 9, 2020

The AP announced Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the winner of the 2020 presidential race on Saturday, and the early days of his presidency will likely see a lot of positive climate action.

Biden campaigned on an ambitious climate platform, promising to spend $2 trillion during his first term on reducing fossil fuel emissions and converting to clean energy. Some of his more ambitious plans could be stalled if the senate remains in republican control, but his first days as president are likely to see a number of executive actions and strong pushes to put clean energy provisions into legislation, according to the New York Times.

Here are some actions Biden is likely to take during his first 100 days as president.

  1. Rejoin the Paris climate agreement

Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement immediately after taking office. The United States officially withdrew from the agreement on November 4, over three years after Donald Trump first announced the move in June of 2017. However, the U.S. will be able to rejoin the agreement 30 days after Biden submits a formal letter to the UN. Biden also plans to assemble a “climate world summit” to press leaders of the world’s top industrial countries to more aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Reverse Trump’s executive orders

Biden will likely reverse most or all of the executive orders Trump signed that rolled back environmental regulations. This could include reinstating fuel economy standards, revoking the permit authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline project, and reversing Trump’s “America First” strategy that aimed at opening up U.S. waters to energy and gas drilling, according to a National Geographic article. Biden also promised to sign an executive order on his first day in office to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by 2030.

3. Create an environmental justice advisory board

Environmental justice became a central part of Biden’s platform during his campaign. Addressing the effects of pollution and climate change on low-income and minority communities would involve a multi-step process, but Biden could quickly create an environmental justice advisory board tasked with coordinating decisive action and policies. These could include establishing pollution monitoring in vulnerable communities and creating mapping tools to better understand current disparities.

4. Add clean energy to coronavirus relief

Biden is likely to add clean energy provisions to any new economic stimulus measures he puts before congress. These could include funding clean energy research and development, supporting continued renewable energy expansion for states, and extending tax credits for renewable energy industries.

Truck Carrying 40,000 Pounds of Fertilizer Rolled Over


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Maxwell Bernstein | November 6, 2020

On Tuesday, a truck carrying 40,000 pounds of fertilizer rolled over about two miles south of Wadena in Fayette County, killing fish in a tributary of Brush Creek, according to the Iowa DNR

The truck was operated by Nutrien Ag Solutions of West Union, according to the Des Moines Register. DNR investigators found dead fish and high levels of ammonia in the water. 

Nutrien Ag and DNR worked to clean up the spill after damming the tributary to diverted clean stream water. The DNR is monitoring the cleanup while fisheries staff are checking downstream. 

Iowa DNR said that they are continuing to investigate and will consider appropriate enforcement options against Nutrien Ag if needed, according to the DNR and KCRG.

United States Formally Withdraws from Paris Agreement


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Nicole Welle | November 5, 2020

The United States became the first nation to formally withdraw from the Paris agreement on Wednesday, the day after election day.

Trump announced the plan to withdraw back in June of 2017, but there are UN regulations in place that prevented the decision from taking effect until this week. Previous attempts to create a global pact for climate change failed because of internal U.S. politics, so President Obama’s negotiators worked with the UN to agree on a set of regulations that would prevent the U.S. from withdrawing too early in the case of a change in leadership. The rules stated that no country could leave the agreement until three years had passed since the date it was ratified. Once those three years had passed, countries needed to submit a 12-month notice to the UN. Because of these rules, Trump could not submit a formal notice until November of 2019, according to a BBC News article.

The Paris agreement requires participating nations to set their own targets for reducing greenhouse gases, and they must increase those goals every few years. The accord does not determine what those goals have to be, but countries are required to accurately report on their efforts. The overall goal is to keep rising average temperatures globally below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, according to a euronews article.

While Donald Trump made leaving the Paris agreement part of his election platform in 2016 and many of his supporters agree with the move, a large percentage of Americans are deeply disappointed by the decision. The U.S. currently represents about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The decision to leave the agreement has hurt the country’s reputation globally, and Many Americans believe that the U.S. should be leading the fight against climate change because it is such a large contributor.

The results of the 2020 presidential election are not yet decided, but Joe Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris agreement on his first day in office if he is elected.

“Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it,” Biden said in a Tweet on Wednesday.

National Stress Awareness Day


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Maxwell Bernstein | November 4, 2020

The first Wednesday in November is Stress Awareness Day, and it happens that this year’s National Stress Awareness Day is occurring during a close election and a once in a century pandemic. 

Whether your stress is induced by COVID-19, the election, environmental issues, or any other factor, the Cleveland Clinic has a list of stress-relieving tips that you can apply during stressful situations. 

The Cleveland Clinic recommends that people, eat and drink to optimize health, exercise regularly, stop using nicotine products, practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation, reduce triggers of stress, examine your values and take action that reflects them, say no when necessary, set realistic goals and expectations, and remind yourself of what you are doing well. 

If getting out of the house is a way to destress, you can check out the Iowa DNR list of state parks and go on a hike in the trails. For further resources, check out the CDC’s guide for coping with stress during the pandemic. 

Next Steps For Addressing Climate Change Could Be Learned From COVID-19


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Thomas Robinson | November 3rd, 2020

Action is needed to mitigate the coming climate crisis.  In a recent post from Yale Climate Connections (YCC), four experts emphasize lessons from the current pandemic that could prove important for the climate crisis.

 A key component preventing immediate climate action is the amount of uncertainty associated with climate science.  Not that the message of climate change is uncertain, but that the science supporting climate conclusions relies on models and predictions that include an element of risk and uncertainty.  The experts make the point that even though there is uncertainty in the models, inaction is unacceptable in the face of the threat posed by climate change.

Another lesson that COVID has revealed, is that inequality results in different experiences for those who face crisis.  COVID in the United States has resulted in a disproportionate effect on those with limited means, particularly black americans resulting in heightened death tolls and economic damages.  Similarly, climate change is affecting poorer countries more than richer countries which has only widened the wealth gap.

The 2020 Iowa Climate Statement draws similar parallels, that what we learn from the current pandemic can help address the climate crisis.  Inaction because of uncertainty only worsens the problem. To prevent inaction, informed and early measures must be taken, otherwise the challenges we face will only become more difficult to deal with.